36 Days & Counting

Do not let the title fool you. The last thing I am doing is counting down the days of school that remain. As of today there are “36 days & counting”. For those of you who are counting them down…shame on you. Please stop.

I have been writing this post in my head for the last week or so and as I have been editing draft after draft, I have been able to read some great posts from other educators who share my sentiments for counting down the final days of school. We collectively agree. DO NOT DO IT. I appreciate the transparency Pernille demonstrates in her post below. Be honest. We have all counted down at some point in our careers. I cannot put my finger on when my mindset shifted, but it has. Has yours? Will yours?

Pernille Ripp“On Counting Down the Days”

Adopt another approach to the “36 days & counting” mindset. It starts with leadership. I do my best to model the mindset. We all know this time of year can be difficult. Students can be emotionally drained. Teachers can be emotionally drained. Leaders can be too. Amber does a great job of pointing this out in her article referenced here.

Amber Teamann“It’s Spring…How Can You Support Teacher’s When They’re Tired?

She says, “It’s OK for passionate, committed people to be tired. That doesn’t make you any less awesome. It makes you human.” She is right. Recognize when you are tired and drained and do something to fill yourself back up. In my case, as a leader, I need to check myself. I need to recognize when I am tired and refuel so I am able to help refuel others.

Ultimately we have a decision to make. With “36 days & counting” I see two options.

Option 1

Count down the days, each day drawing closer to the end. In doing so, the message delivered to staff, teachers, & students is that the year is “basically” over and what we are doing now is not as important as what we did earlier in the year. After spending the year educating students about the importance of perseverance and grit you begin to model the exact things you fought so hard to overcome. What you once valued as a learning community has diminished and collaboration has turned into busy work. The message of being a life long learner has fallen short, taking time off as the summer quickly approaches.

Option 2

Seek to build momentum as you head into the off-season or what is otherwise known as summer. As an athlete and sports nut, I view the final “36 days & counting” as the home stretch, the 4th quarter, the bell lap, or the bottom of the ninth. Continue to create lasting relationships. Keep motivating your students and colleagues, inspiring change. Teach and learn from the group of students you have poured into all year. Make your own momentum.

Building Momentum

As a sports season comes to an end you will hear coaches comment on building momentum heading into the off-season. I believe the same can be said about education.  Buildings, teacher teams and students can use the remaining days as a spring board into the next school year. Buildings can begin laying the groundwork for efforts that will carry them forward into the next school year. Teacher teams can reflect on practices and begin making positive changes that will carry over into the next school year. Students can strengthen their foundation of learning making the transition into a new grade level less of a leap and more of a skip.

There are “36 days & counting”. We have a decision to make. Which option do you choose? What mindset will you adopt? Do you show up for game 7 and look to hit the winning shot? Or do you embrace the remaining days and “make it count” as Paige Givens inspires us do to below?

Paige Givens“7 More Weeks”

I hope you choose to join me and the authors referenced above this spring. Let’s rally, lifting one another up so we may continue to inspire positive change in our schools and be the change we want to see in others. The final 36 days of school could be the best 36 days of the year. If you want them to be.

Feedback is a GIFT

“That’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.” Remember when Eddie shared this memorable quote in Christmas Vacation? Needless to say, he was not talking about feedback. As you know, he was referencing the Jelly of the Month club. As principals, leaders and teachers, we know that Feedback is a GIFT. Feedback is a GIFT that keeps giving the whole year. If you give it. @matthew_arend

This past week feedback has been on my mind. I have been getting ready for my end of year conferences with teachers. During these conferences, feedback will be very important as we lift up and celebrate what has gone well this year, review areas of refinement and set a direction for the next school year. I want to say just the right things, recognizing the efforts of teachers. I also want to provide encouragement and inspiration to keep them learning and growing.

As my week went on, it became more clear, this was a topic I was needing to write about. As I entered into a training session on Thursday, the following image was displayed midway through the morning.

Did this image speak to you like it did to me? I have never underestimated the power of feedback, but I will be honest and tell you my feedback can certainly improve. I am going to use this as a jumping off point to intentionally improve my feedback between now and the end of the year and of course for many years to come.

Regardless of the position you hold, these four statements speak truth into the relationships that exist. George Couros reminds us in the Innovator’s Mindset that it is all about “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships.” Whether you are a leader speaking with teachers or a teacher speaking with students, trusting and authentic relationships must be present for feedback to be effective. 

Given with Permission

“In through one ear and out of the other.” I vividly recall being in situations where I was providing feedback and the person who I had wished heard it, was not ready to hear it. Whether they were upset, in denial or just not ready to hear what I had to say, I did not have their permission to share. Before obtaining permission, relationships must be developed, cultivated and nurtured. Trust must be developed so when feedback is sought out or shared, it is given with permission. If someone does not come to you specifically asking for feedback, consider asking someone if you can provide feedback, before you just give it.

Intent is for Growth

Feedback needs to be articulated in a way that moves us forward. As a leader, I need to be mindful of this. I can dwell on what has occurred or I can use what has occurred to guide our next steps. Learning from our past helps us set a clearer path for the future. If success is the ultimate goal, then we must grow.

My reading this week for #IMMOOC including the following statement:

We only get better when we find those who truly elevate us. Look for mentors who will push you to come up with better and brighter ideas and be that person for your followers. Leaders are meant to unleash talent by bringing their people’s strengths to life, not ignoring them. 

The above excerpt is an excellent measuring stick for the effectiveness of my feedback. If the feedback I am giving meets what George highlighted above, my intent is for growth. The one nugget that should not be overshadowed is if you are giving feedback, you should have someone providing feedback to you also. Feedback is by no means a one way street. We all need someone to “push us to come up with better and brighter ideas.”

For the Person, Not About the Person

I cannot think of a quicker way to damage the relationships that have been established than making your feedback personal. Recently at a principal’s meeting, we shared feedback with teachers after a brief presentation they shared. Instead of beginning our sentence with the word “you” we were instructed to to specifically state the teachers name. While this seemed bizarre, speaking about someone who was clearly sitting in front of us, it removed the “personal” aspect of the feedback making the feedback more for the person than about the person.

Technology Supports Feedback

I was able to attend a professional learning session this weekend hosted by Alice Keeler. While the focus of much of the morning was on how to best use Google products to enhance learning experiences for students, we also discussed how the same tools could provide feedback to students…instantly. Whether you are using Google products to provide your feedback or using a more traditional face to face model, the graphic below serves as a terrific reminder to provide feedback promptly. Teachers need feedback from peers and leaders in a timely fashion so they can be affirmed of the decisions they are making. Timely feedback also supports teachers in reflecting on decisions should adjustments need to be made. These adjustments may warrant a higher level of success. Feedback for students needs to be timely and shared while student interest is high. While they are giving permission for feedback to be shared. As students seek feedback amidst their engagement, we must follow through. Waiting to respond when it is convenient, tells the student what they are working on is not valued equally, leading to a decrease in their interest, empowerment and engagement. Keeler’s focus on using technology to provide feedback to students also empowers students to give feedback to the teachers. Receiving specific responses, allows for individualized feedback. Just make sure it is for the student and not about the student.

When you ask question to the class and choose one student to respond, you know what one student is thinking. When you ask the question digitally, all students can respond. Instantly.

– Alice Keeler

Targeted for Success

You are on target for success when your feedback is given with permission, the intent is for growth and it is focused for the person and not about the person. The important piece to remember is that feedback is ongoing. As I head into my end of year conferences, I need to be mindful of the fact that success does not happen in one conference. Feedback needs to be on-going and followed up on. Success is a journey. Honestly, there is not a final destination. Just when you feel you have arrived, our best will find another area they want to improve upon. Thus, keeping the need for feedback to be constant and on-going.

As I look to “empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity” as the Innovator’s Mindset calls us to do, I aim to do so through modeling, but also through my feedback to teachers and our teacher’s feedback to our students. Taking risks and attempting to approaching learning with new and better ways can be trepidatious. I need to be sure I am giving the gift that will support the work, lift up teachers and keep them moving forward. I need to remember, feedback is a GIFT.